Ken Moffett, the baseball union boss who was fired last November, says that he thinks more than 100 major league baseball players--"I'd guess about four or five per team, on the average"--use illegal drugs.
"You can't believe how deeply it's taken hold in sports, including baseball," said Moffett yesterday, speaking publicly in an interview with The Washington Post for the first time since he was ousted as leader of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"From the first day I was on the job, I started getting calls from wives, mothers, sweethearts, saying, 'What can I do for my guy. He's hooked on coke (cocaine). He's on drugs.' When I went to people in the union like Marvin Miller and Mark Belanger and asked what they did about calls like this, they said, 'Nothing. We've never addressed it' . . .
"I think that the thing which triggered my firing (Nov. 22) is that we (management and the union) were getting close to hammering out a tough, impartial drug policy. We (in the union) knew that we could negotiate a really impartial tribunal."
Moffett believes that this prospect scared a significant number of players and agents, particularly because "clubs might be able to get out of longterm guaranteed contracts" if drug testing turned up a "dirty" player.
"I would guess that, on an average, you'd have four or five players per club using illegal drugs. It all depends on the team. Nobody has the facts, nobody knows for sure, including the union. But that's my feeling."
Moffett further believes that the players union is "set on a hard-line path" in its current negotiations with management and that the possibility of a baseball strike in 1985 has been increased by what he calls back-room power plays that resulted in his firing.
"I was trying to build a bridge to management," said Moffett, who was a labor mediator for 21 years and served as NLRB mediator during the baseball wars of 1980 and 1981. "However, the union is determined to be confrontational on every issue. They're still back on a 1930s tack. They might be the last union in America that thinks that way. They'd rather fight than switch."
Moffett settled out of court a lawsuit against the players union last week. It concerned the last two years of his contract.
He admits that he is embittered by battles within the union. "Everything I was for, (current union director Don) Fehr and Dick Moss (agent and former union counsel) and Mark Belanger were against. They were plotting my demise.
"Before I took the job, Fehr told me that 'The only way to get anything done in the union is to go behind Marvin Miller's back.' I thought, 'If he did this with Marvin, why won't he do this with me? And, in fact, he did, ultimately."
"In addition to Fehr, Moss and Belanger, about a half-dozen players control that union. Bob Boone, Steve Rogers, Ted Simmons, Steve Renko and a couple of others. They make the decisions and everybody else just goes along . . .
"I think that most players were as surprised to hear that I'd been fired as I was."
Moffett still feels that Miller, the famously tough negotiator who has been so instrumental in raising baseball players' salaries tenfold in 15 years, remains the sole soul of the union. Moffett succeeded Miller as union head on Jan. 1, 1983. Miller remained as a consultant.
"Marvin didn't like my style of seeking accommodation. All I heard from everybody was that 'Management is going to screw you. You can't trust them. You can't get to know them. You have to fight them on every point.' Marvin and I also had words a few times and you don't cross Marvin . . .
"In the end, he, in effect, said, 'I'm going to take my ball and go home. I'm not going to have anything to do with the union as long as it's going in this direction' . . . The players felt that, 'We need Marvin more than we need Moffett' . . . I had no constituency and Marvin did . . .
"My firing was the tackiest thing I have ever been through in my life," says Moffett, who has recently been hired by the NFL Players Association as an impartial umpire in all conflicts between players and agents.
"I was brought before a kangaroo court and told that, as of that day, Miller was taking over again . . . I felt like the last nine months I was executive director I was in a fire-and-fall-back action. It's tough to fight a rear-guard action, especially when the rear guard is in your own office."
Of all baseball's problems, none seems more urgent to Moffett than drug abuse, especially the spread of cocaine abuse.
"Reggie Jackson called me once and said, 'Nobody on the Angels uses cocaine.' I asked, 'How do you know?' He said, 'I could tell by the way they played,' " recalls Moffett.
"Well, I think Reggie's wrong. I've talked to experts in the field and they say that often you can't tell. There are players who perform just as well on cocaine and there may even be some who play better . . . The problem is that you get hooked on it. Your need for it, so you can feel sharp, increases. When you get past snorting to free-basing, you're just washed up."
Fehr and Miller offered rebuttals yesterday to all Moffett's major points.
As to the extent of drug abuse in baseball, Fehr said, "How would Moffett know? I've been here since 1976 and I couldn't give an estimate . . . Progress has continued on working out a (joint labor-management) drug program and I think we'll see something in that area before too long."
As to the charge of a reversion to hard-line bargaining tactics, Fehr says, "This union has not, historically, been confrontational . . . it did everything it could to avoid strikes."
"Two strikes in 18 years, one of them forced on us, I would hardly call that confrontation," said Miller.
"Moffett is not an advocate and never really has been one. He comes from a background, as a mediator, where any settlement is seen as a victory. No advocate can look at it that way."
"Moffett was fired for incompetence and failure to work on the job," said Fehr. "He didn't attend arbitration hearings or grievance meetings. He commuted to the job from Washington to New York until September. He just didn't work at it . . . As for that stuff about a kangaroo court, he was hired by the executive board and he was fired by the executive board."
The baseball commissioner's office was told of Moffett's remarks concerning drug use but, since Bowie Kuhn was returning from Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, made no comment.
Moffett's greatest disappointment is that he felt "baseball was in a perfect position to solve its problems, not make them worse. In my experience (at the NLRB), a long strike, like the one in baseball in '81, has a cathartic effect. Both sides look for compromise the next time around . . .
"Management's first question to me was, 'What do you need?' I told them, 'I need somebody I can talk to, somebody the players respect' . . . Well, they couldn't have made a better choice than Lee MacPhail (as new director of the Player Relations Committee). And we consistently made progress in our dealings."
Moffett's memories of the players he represented is stark to the point of being bleak. "The players don't really give a rat's . . . for anything except themselves. They don't even care much about each other. I liken them to itinerant argicultural workers who move from place to place," said Moffett.
"I don't mean that disparagingly. They're bounced around against their will. They learn early not to put down roots or get too attached to anybody or any place. They're still pawns of management, except for the veterans who can veto a trade or the players with long-term contracts. Belanger once told me, 'I don't really have any close friends among other players. I have acquaintanceships and some loyalties, but no close friends.'
"Players develop a veneer, a standoffishness. There aren't many Kenny Singletons who are truly likeable guys. You have more Steve Carltons who barely give you the time of day, who treat everybody alike--bad . . . Even some of the cheerful ones, like Tug McGraw, you feel like they are working on an image of what Tug McGraw should be rather than just being Tug McGraw," says Moffett.
"I've sometimes thought that players were a lot like beautiful women who get hit on by men all the time, and are catered to and pampered and idolized, until they end up hating men. The difference with the players is that everybody treats them that way; they can end up feeling that they can't get close to anybody . . .
"That constant high of being in the public eye--being recognized in airports and bars--is probably like cocaine. It's something that's hard to come down from.
"In fact, you're looking at somebody like that right now," said Moffett. "The coming down is very hard."